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Last-Minute SAT Prep

Do you have a kid in your house who is gearing up to take the SATs this weekend? Pass along these tips for testing success.

The Week Before

Take a practice test. If your kid hasn’t already taken a few practice tests, download the free practice test available on the College Board website. Familiarity with the test raises scores, says Colin Gruenwald, Kaplan Test Prep’s national director of SAT and ACT programs. After the practice test, help your kid go back and analyze what questions he missed, focusing on what still needs work.

Get a strategy in place. The SAT penalizes one-fourth of a point for a wrong answer, says Gruenwald. If your kid has no idea what the answer is, she should leave it blank. However, if she can eliminate even just one of the choices (which shouldn't be too hard, according to Gruenwald), the statistics are in her favor due to the way the test grading is structured, so advise her to go ahead and guess.

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Visit the testing site. Making a trial run will ensure your kid doesn't get lost and arrive late the day of the test, says Kirk McLaren, president of Know Limit Learning Services. This extra level of preparation will also “decrease anxiety,” he adds.

Get a lot of sleep. You’ve probably heard to get a good night’s sleep before the test, but SAT expert Anthony-James Green recommends your kid goes to bed at a reasonable hour and gets eight hours each night the entire week leading up to it. Not only will he enter the test well-rested, but if he's primed his body for an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. sleeping cycle, he's also more likely to wake up fresh and alert the morning of the big day, Green says.

Check the College Board website. Look under the test day checklist to make sure your kid is familiar with all the materials he must bring to the test, such as proper identification, recommends Gruenwald. The site also lists acceptable calculators for use on the math portion. Double check that his calculator meets the qualifications.

The Day Before

Don’t cram. Tell your kid to quit studying, recommends Gruenwald. She has done all she can, and any more prepping will probably just highlight areas she could use more work on, which will destroy her confidence. Instead, Gruenwald recommends doing something to keep the brain limber but not overworked, such as piecing together a puzzle, playing a card game or reading a good book. Also, your kid can burn off some stress by “taking the dog out for a long walk, going for a jog, anything that feels good,” he advises.

Eat well and hydrate. Leading up to the test, encourage drinking at least eight glasses of water, recommends Green, because “brains work best when hydrated.” However, the day of the test, tell your kid to keep his water consumption light—one glass at breakfast—so he does’t have to make a bathroom break in the middle of the test. As for diet, the night before (and the whole week before, if possible), serve well-balanced meals consisting of “healthy grains; healthy fats like peanut butter, olive oil and nuts; fruits; vegetables; and proteins,” he advises. “A lot of kids who freak out about the SAT eat chips and Mountain Dew, then magically feel sick the day of the test, as their body is running on chemicals and white flour.”

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The Day of the Test

Get up two hours before the test. Studies have shown that that mental capacity peaks 90 minutes after waking up, says Green. This two-hour window gives the brain time to reboot.

Dress in layers. Some testing centers are warm and others are freezing. Dressing incorrectly can distract your kid from performing his best. The key to feeling the most comfortable temperature-wise is to layer up so he can peel off or put on articles of clothing as needed, says Gruenwald.

Eat your normal breakfast (as long as it’s not junky). Gruenwald tells students to eat a healthy, nutritious breakfast, but not to drastically change their breakfast routine. For example, if your kid's body is used to a bowl of corn flakes or a bagel and a cup of orange juice, stick with it. He also advises against drinking caffeine drinks, which can fuel pre-test jitters.

Get to the test about one-half hour or 45 minutes early. Give your kid a a torn-out section of a pre-test to bring along. As he waits, he can re-do a problem he's already solved correctly. According to Green’s research, students do better on the SAT as they warm up. This prep work will prime his brain and get him in the zone. And because he's going over a question that's already mastered, his confidence will get a boost, too, he adds.

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Take a deep breath and relax. Your kid has done all he can, and he is ready. Also, try to keep the test in perspective: Sure, it’s important, but it’s just one of the many factors for college admission, says McLaren. And, with some 2,000 colleges out there, he points out, “there will be a right fit.”

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